Heather Cannon practices as a Guardian ad Litem in the Fourteenth Judicial District.
Why did you choose to practice child welfare law?
I attended law school at Gonzaga and I loved the social justice aspect of child welfare law. I have found in my practice that there are very few areas where the legal system has the ability to truly change lives in a positive way; however, practicing in the area of child welfare provides an opportunity to assist children and families in making incredible changes in their lives.
What has been the most rewarding moment for you while working with children and families in the dependency and neglect system?
The most rewarding moment I have had while working with children and families in the dependency and neglect system came about four years ago when a juvenile I represented wrote me (actually hand wrote) a letter and expressed her dreams, her goals and how much of an impact I had made on her life. I keep that letter in my desk and read it every day to remind myself of the amazing potential we have to impact someone’s life on a daily basis through our work with the Office of the Child’s Representative.
Describe a challenge you face doing this work and your strategies to overcome it.
A common challenge in child welfare law is the difficulty in locating necessary resources in a rural community that are able to address very complex family dynamics or addictions. I have found that developing a strong resource list outside of the area, as well as inside the area, really is essential to being effective in this area of law to achieve the best outcomes for children and families.
What advice do you have for an attorney who is new to child welfare law?
The best advice I have is to always focus on the positive in any situation presented in the cases you are assigned. As an attorney who has a general practice, I can honestly say that this area of law has the potential to be the most rewarding career choice an attorney can make simply because of the ability to help so many people in a short period of time. However, I can also say the situations that present themselves in these cases can be the most heartbreaking and it is easy for a new attorney to become overwhelmed or discouraged. I have found that there is usually a silver lining in nearly every situation, even if it is learning how to address a new situation or locating new resources that can be used in the future.
What drives you to continue in this line of work and do you have any advice for seasoned attorney?
The primary driving force in continuing in this line of work is truly the passion I have for this area of law and the desire to continue to help people through the legal system. The only advice I would have to offer for a seasoned attorney is to pass on their knowledge of the law and their experience in our chosen field of practice.
Share a litigation strategy or case example when you were successful despite opposition from other parties to the case.
Wow, there are so many to choose from over the years; this is truly a difficult question to answer. Candidly, I believe the best litigation strategy in child welfare cases is to ensure that the child (if old enough) is able to form a relationship with you where they feel they can trust decisions you are making on their behalf and they are open to helping you make those decisions. So many times, it seems that the case becomes very parent focused and the child becomes a secondary issue in the case. As a Guardian ad Litem, I feel my role is to ensure the case starts and remains child focused throughout the duration of the case and that the Judges have the ability to form a positive relationship with the children, as well. I have found that as long as the focus of my case remains on the child and that I work to ensure that other parties in the case are focused on this as well, legal outcomes that are best for the child are nearly always accomplished.